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Tesla employees raise concerns as production set to jump

Cars are lined up near the Tesla Motors factory complex in Fremont, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)
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As Tesla sets aggressive new production goals, its workers are sending a clear message: Don’t forget about us. Several Tesla employees in recent weeks have shared stories of workplace injuries and have called for the electric vehicle maker to improve safety standards. Tesla CEO Elon Musk maintains that worker safety and satisfaction remain top issues.

“We’re trying to do good for the world and we believe in doing the right thing,” Musk told the British news site The Guardian. “And that extends to caring about the health and safety of everyone at the company.”

The Guardian on Thursday reported that ambulances were called to the factory more than 100 times since 2014 for worker ailments ranging from dizziness and fainting to seizures and chest pains.

Factory employees have raised concerns publicly over work conditions since February. Workers have coordinated with the United Automobile Workers union in an attempt to organize the plant and bring attention to safety on the factory floor.

The increased pressure from workers comes as Musk pushes his team to launch the new Model 3, its lower-cost sedan, and pump up production from 84,000 last year to a 500,000 vehicles next year.

In a blog post, Tesla said it has improved work conditions and added a robust program to help injured employees recover from work-related maladies. The company’s total recordable incident rate, a standard safety rating, is nearly one-third better than the industry average this year.

Tesla records also show that 75 percent of the ambulance trips were unrelated to work injuries, for example, an illness or another pre-existing condition. About 10,000 employees work at the former NUMMI plant in Fremont, including administrators, engineers and hourly production employees.

Tesla added an extra shift, from two to three, last year to cut back on worker hours and stress. It also established an ergonomics team and designed its new vehicle production process to minimize worker movement and stress. Several Tesla employees have logged complaints and come forward with their stories.

Jonathan Galescu, a production worker and safety coordinator, told this newspaper workplace safety was not always a primary concern on the factory floor when he started in October 2014. Galescu said he and other workers were afraid to mention workplace injuries for fear of being labeled complainers or losing their jobs.

Galescu said a few months after he started work, an 80-pound piece of a vehicle struck him in the chest and knocked him down. He was sent home in a taxi, but he returned to work the next day – sore with a large bruise on his chest – because he feared getting in trouble.

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